|The MV Columbia|
We left Seattle about midday for the hour and a half's drive to the ferry terminal at Bellingham. Twenty minutes later we passed a sign flashing news of an accident ahead on the freeway. The traffic slowed, crawled, inched forward once or twice, then stopped. After 15 minutes of no movement at all David eased across to the right hand exit lane and we abandoned the freeway.
Clearly we weren't the only ones to think of this. Once off the freeway the traffic was slow but at least it was moving and after a long and convoluted detour we rejoined the freeway a few miles north and arrived at Bellingham about 2.30 pm, only half an hour before the scheduled check-in time.
The ferry wasn't due to depart until 6 pm. However with six ports of call, loading the car-decks was like playing mechanised tetris. Cars, motor bikes, R.Vs, SUVs and trucks all had to be placed according to the constraints of size, weight and destination. There isn't much point in loading vehicles for the ferry's last stop at Skagway behind those for its first stop at Ketchikan. David and I were disembarking at Juneau, which was after Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg but before Haines and Skagway.
The lane next to us boarded at 3.45 pm. Half an hour later we were directed out of our lane and sent toward the ship along the now empty lane beside us. It was another two hours before the last cars were directed on board. They had my sympathy.
|Driving into the ship.|
The crewmen directing us onto the car deck were pleasant enough but had that casual air which comes of having done the job too many times before. We couldn't hear them over the noise inside the ship and their hand signals were confusing and ambiguous. Inside the ship we were confronted with two small ramps. Should D drive onto them? If he drove too far there was nothing to stop the front wheels of the car from crashing back onto the deck. Luckily he hesitated long enough to see a cage-like car elevator dropping from the deck above. It stopped level with the top of the ramps and D drove forward into it.
|The car elevator on board the Columbia.|
Having lived in Hong Kong many years ago we were familiar with car elevators. We waited while we were transported up to the top deck then backed out with inches to spare on each side. Amid more ambiguous directions we finally parked. By this time David's stress levels were in overdrive. We unpacked our luggage and sought out the purser's office for keys and directions to our cabin. Over the course of two more trips to the car deck neither of us noticed the car engine was still running. The noise of the ship's engine masked the sound. The ignition system on our rental car is the sort you see from time to time in European cars. There is no ignition switch other than a start/stop button. More fundamentally there is nowhere to put the key. As long as the key, which was in my hand bag the whole time, is in close proximity to the car then the engine will start. Fail to press the stop button and the engine keeps running even if you walk away with the key.
|The upper car deck.|
We were exploring the ship when several announcements came across the PA.
"Would David Linney please go to the car deck and switch off your engine. Would David Linney please go to the car deck and switch off your engine."
The announcement came three or four more times before finally "Would David Lindfield please go to the car deck and switch off your engine".
Oooppps! We made a panicked dash down to the car deck where David assured me this time he pressed the stop button. It is the kind of mistake you only make once - I hope.
Safely ensconced in our cabin that night my last thought before going to sleep was - 'Did David put the handbrake on?'
The car is insured and frankly neither of us like it that much but nevertheless the thought of it running amok on the car deck was scary.
|Underway safely at last - how much damage can a loose car actually do?|
For the next post in this series click - here
For all my posts on our Alaska Marine Highway and Alaska Highway road trip click - here
26 June 2015